Brad Gabrielson and Ally Christianson share a lot in common. They both like to laugh and tease each other, and they also have cerebral palsy and live out of their wheelchairs.
Gabrielson, 57, Jamestown, got to know Ally, 9, and her family after he decided to give her a gift that will make her life and her family’s life easier—a portable, lightweight ramp strong enough to support the weight of her wheelchair. Gabrielson said he chose Ally and her family because they are from Jamestown, like him, and because he and Ally both have cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is considered a neurological disorder caused by a non-progressive brain injury or malformation that occurs while the child’s brain is under development, according to MyChild Cerebral Palsy Foundation. Cerebral palsy primarily affects body movement and muscle coordination.
Gabrielson is working with Roll-A-Ramp—a company based in West Fargo, N.D., that makes a ramp that can be used by people with disabilities to access any building—to award a portable ramp to one person with a disability in each of the 50 states. Gabrielson said he is currently raising money for the Polly Neumiller Benefit Donation Fund to cover the costs of the ramps and his travel to award each ramp in person to a recipient.
Gabrielson said he came up with the idea of giving a ramp to a person with a disability in each state in honor of Neumiller, his wife, who died on Sept. 26, 2015, due to complications from cardiac arrest. He said she didn’t know she had a heart condition before she started having problems in early August 2015.
Amber Dockter, Gabrielson and Neumiller’s daughter, said in a letter explaining her father’s goal with the foundation that he wants to pay forward “the unconditional love and kindness he received (from Neumiller) by helping other people through this donation project.”
Gabrielson will be able to purchase additional ramps at cost from Roll-A-Ramp.
Ally came to Gabrielson’s attention in part through Dockter, who works at the North Dakota State Hospital along with Carrie Christianson, Ally’s mom.
Christianson said she also became aware of the ramp donation program through another mother who has children who attend the Anne Carlsen Center. Ally also attends the Anne Carlsen Center.
Sitting together at Ally’s grandparents’ farm north of Jamestown, Gabrielson and Ally show they have rapport with each other.
“When I met you earlier this summer, you made me a promise,” he said to her. “What was it?”
“Work hard and go to physical therapy,” Ally replied.
“That’s it exactly,” Gabrielson said, smiling. “Are you still doing it?”
“Mmhm (yes),” Ally said in a little softer voice.
Ally said she would like to be a physical therapist even though she isn’t too fond of doing physical therapy.
Gabrielson said he continues to do range-of-motion physical therapy exercises and will keep doing them for the rest of his life
The two share something else in common—Sept. 26 as a significant date. For Gabrielson, it is the day his wife died. For Ally, it’s her birthday.
With the donation of the portable ramp, Ally can easily access the playhouse cabin at her grandparent’s farm.
“This is one of Ally’s favorite places to play,” Christianson said. “It (the ramp) gives her more independence.”
Christianson and her husband, Jesse, said the lightweight, portable ramp will make Ally’s life and theirs much easier when it comes to traveling. Before the donation, going on trips usually meant leaving Ally’s electric chair—the one she uses all the time and lives in—at home and using a manual chair.
“Her (electric) chair is too heavy for one person to lift,” Jesse Christianson said.
Carrie Christianson said Gabrielson has been giving Ally pointers on how to maneuver in her electric chair as well.
“We have learned a lot from Brad these past few months,” she said.
For more information about Roll-A-Ramp, go to www.rollaramp.com.